There aren’t many things that can compare, when depression comes into one’s life, to the loss of individual’s self-worth. And, today more than ever, this loss is visible, impacting especially the way that the person thinks about her appearance and body. If this used to be a girls’ thing, now it’s a collective problem, affecting us all. Because, yeah, when depression comes, the self-love starts to pack and fade away. When you’re in a bad place for your mental health, all the insecurities that you thought there are long gone, start making their comeback into your life. This is how you know that things are getting rough again.
For as long as I can recall, my most difficult relationship was the one that I’ve had with my body. It was never good enough for me, with the extra-weight and all the other things I used to hate about myself.
Because I’ve been hating myself and the way I look for way too many years. I used to say that it’s enough that I’m ugly, and tried my best to achieve what society defined as beauty. Obviously, this led me to a whole bunch of debatable decisions. It was in my early teenage years where I started to feel unworthy. Unworthy of being seen as attractive, beautiful, of receiving compliments regarding my looks, of feeling…I don’t know, feminine, maybe?
As any story, this one reached its peak when I’ve reached my biggest weight, and my lowest self-image. It was 6 years ago. At that time, I was sick of seeing my own body, and started to avoid every mirror or reflection of it. Looking backwards, I can’t explain how comes that I didn’t developed an eating disorder, but it must be some magic involved.
But at that time, the self-hatred started to fade away, even if I was stuck with the guilt. That’s why, when a weight-loss plan was proposed to me, I’ve accepted it: because I wanted that guilt to stop. And, as I was getting thinner, the guilt was leaving room to confidence.
It didn’t last as long as I wished, though. As the depression made its comeback into my life, so did the insecurities regarding my body, and the mindless eating. Yet, it was something different in this comeback.
And the difference was that I knew that I can do better. That it is a period, not something that would last a lifetime.But this doesn’t mean it has not been one hell of a journey, because it totally was.
Being aware of the fact that I was, at a certain point, capable to do better, was a thing that really enhanced the hurt and frustration. The if I was able to do it then, why am I not able to do it now mentality wasn’t helping me at all, it just helped me become more frustrated and guiltier day after day. A big part of the recovery journey was a fight.
Fighting the guilt, the frustration, the thought that I failed myself by not reaching my goal. Trying to come back to a disciplined way of eating and living, and failing every attempt. The more radical it was, the bigger and quicker the failure. Add this up to the already old battle with my feelings of hurt, numbness, being unworthy, and lack of purpose, and here we go: a big, beautifully dramatic depressive episode.
But as nothing’s ever built to last, neither was this thing. One day, I gave up on the diary where I was rating my weeks, in the attempt of becoming more aware of my progress, understood back then as a comeback to the life I’ve had until that summer, and stood still.
I stopped trying to force things and, as letting life flow, I’ve understood one important thing. The most important relationship I will ever have is the one with my own body. It is the ultimate relationship, as it sets my demands and expectations from interacting with other people, my relationship with the society, my long term well-being. It was a huge revelation, understanding the fact that I don’t have to love myself in order to genuinely care about myself.
And this is how things started to change again. Not on the scale, but on the inside, as I’ve finally understood that what I deserve and the way I look like should never correlate and, if they do, it is a sign that I’m in the wrong context.
If it was to choose a point, some kind of milestone that marked the beginning of the real recovery, this was it. Understanding that I may not feel beautiful, I may not love my body, because I didn’t reach that point yet, but that is not my right to bring it harm. That food is not going to help me get over the bad times, or make the depression walk away.
That was also the moment when I’ve noticed how depression alienates me from my body. How it made me sleep, eat and behave was totally opposed to what I knew. But not unexpected. Because when the pain comes, we gotta deal with it somehow. And here this meant lots of sleeping, eating, isolating and crying. It was not the best thing to do, and definitely not the wisest, but it helped get through the period as safe as possible.
Can’t say that I’m proud, or that I’ve made it. I’m still looking at what the society calls beautiful, and then I look in the mirror. I still notice how far of the social beauty I am. But the achievement is that it doesn’t hurt anymore. I am aware of the distance, but I don’t feel guilty for not fitting in anymore.
It might sound sad, and almost cliché, but it took me 25 years and a serious depression to really aknowledge the fact that I can still be pretty in my own way, regardless of what society claims as beautiful, feminine or attractive.
This period brought the clear image of all the ways society made me feel bad about myself, by constantly telling me that I’m not enough. That my body doesn’t look magazine-worthy enough to allow myself to feel beautiful or eat my favorite foods without shame or guilt trips.
That I can’t afford being picky about my clothes, friends or men, because I don’t look beautiful enough to afford having my own standards. But I suppose that this is also a part of growing up, the development of the ability to give no damn about what is inoculated as a general standard. Not in one’s personal life. And any attempt of personal life begins with the relationship we have with our bodies.
There is no universal recipe to do it. Just spend time with yourself and the people who love you, ask them about the good they see in you, because we often tend to see our bad parts before we see the good ones, do things that really make you happy. Dance, eat, smile, enjoy any kind of pleasure. Don’t get stuck on façades that have nothing to do with your own image about yourself, and explore.
Explore the internet, the fashion history, the subcultures, the aesthetic of your favorite decades, you name it. Explore, document yourself, pick your favorites and try to integrate them into your wardrobe, and give up on feeling guilty about who you are.
This was my recipe, mixed with lots of moments when I’ve just sit in front of the mirror, naked, analysing it, as an attempt of getting familiar with it without the judgment. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes did not, but for sure it led me to an intimate connection between me and my body, happening as the attachment to the socially-promoted ideas was fading.
Of course, this story has no ending. Every depressive episode shakes the balance and brings up physical insecurities. It is part of the process, as well as learning the lessons which are unfolding in front of our eyes. But, as I know more about my body, managing depression becomes easier. Because, at the end of the day, I know, deep down, that between being worthy and looking like you’ve stepped out of a fashion magazine covers, ain’t no correlation.
We are all in this, fighting all these constant pressures daily, and we are all worthy. Worthy of love, acceptance, care. But, first of all, we’re all worthy of having a good, intimate relationship with our bodies. And this is something I hope that each and every one of us, men or women, will achieve, in its very own rhythm.
Because there’s no outer relevant shoulds and what ifs when it comes to one’s personal journey towards well-being and balance, and we should never let other people drag us into journeys that are not ours. And this is something that applies on the way we get to know our bodies as well. Or especially there.